ArenaNet Art Director Daniel Dociu wins Spectrum 14 gold medal!
ArenaNet's very own Daniel Dociu, the art director behind the distinctive look and feel of the Guild Wars franchise recently struck gold, being named a Gold Award winner in the fourteenth annual Spectrum competition. Daniel won the Gold Award in the concept art category for his piece, "Crescent City," which was the concept design behind Gandara, the Moon Fortress, a huge mission locale in the award-winning Guild Wars Nightfall campaign.
This is quite a prestigious accomplishment, as Spectrum is the pinnacle competition in the world of fantastic artwork, equivalent to the Oscars for cinema or the Olympics for athletics. Awards were given in eight categories and judged by such experts in the field as Mark Chiarello (art director for DC Comics) and Dawn Murin (art director for Wizards of the Coast). The winning entries will all appear in the annual Spectrum art book, Spectrum 14: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, which will be published in October of this year. Daniel previously won a Spectrum Silver Award for another Guild Wars piece, "Fish Fort."
We're all quite proud of Daniel here at ArenaNet, and believe his Spectrum Gold Award is well-deserved. We talked with Daniel after he received the news and share with you, the fans of Guild Wars—and through extension, fans of Daniel's art, which permeates the game—his thoughts on his career in the industry and his outlook on creating conceptual artwork for games.
Q: Tell our fans a bit about your background. Where did you study and what other projects have you worked on?
A: I was born and raised in Cluj, the capital of Transylvania (Romania). I studied art and architecture from a young age and got my masters degree in industrial design from the Academy of Fine Arts in that city. I worked as a product designer for about five years and then went into teaching for the same school. I moved to the U.S. in 1990 after having spent two years in Athens, Greece. I have lived in the Seattle area since ’91. After two years as a toy designer for a less-than-glamorous manufacturer, I jumped ship to interactive entertainment. I’ve been working as an art director in the games industry ever since, for companies like Squaresoft, Electronic Arts (twice!), and Zipper Interactive. I have done consulting for Microsoft and freelance work for Wizards of the Coast, Digital Anvil, and a fair share of small developers who have come and gone. For the past three and a half years, I have been with ArenaNet, working on the Guild Wars series.
Q: Explain a bit about your artistic style and your process.
Generally, what I try to pursue in my work is an emotion or a high-level (at times rather abstract) idea, rather than a technique-driven process. Although as an industrial designer I have, over time, honed my ability to design relatively complex systems entirely in my head, I try to avoid that approach because I find myself losing interest in the subject if I have it all figured out before starting to illustrate it. I therefore allow for a good amount of searching for shapes and connections to happen in the drawing phase, to keep myself curious and entertained by occasional surprises.
I believe that style should "happen" naturally over a long period of growth, as an evolution toward finding the means of expression that best resonate with one’s sensibilities. I remember struggling as a young art student to find a style of my own, only to fall into one trap or another. I was fortunate enough to find a mentor who exposed the shallowness of my search and prompted me to dig deeper. You have to get yourself genuinely charged emotionally (and/or intellectually, depending on how you are wired) vis-à-vis your subject. You need to take a stance and have the urge to share. Manifesting that position through direct, raw forms of expression you will find yourself, "stylistically."
Q: What's the best part of your job?
The people I work with. The ArenaNet art team is by far the strongest I’ve had the privilege to be associated with. The unprecedented abundance of young talent of top caliber mixed with the experience of seasoned industry veterans make for a development culture that is truly inspiring!
Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Finding a balance between doing hands-on concept work, art directing the production team, and attending the many evil (but necessary) meetings.
Q: What advice can you give to fledgling artists aspiring to break into the games industry?
Getting your first job in the industry can be difficult, since many studios look for artists with previous industry experience. Of course, if you're just getting started, you don't have that previous experience, but you can't get that experience until you land your first job. It can be a brutal process. Networking is extremely important in the games industry, so get your name out there, attend conferences, and meet as many people in the industry as you can. Work with a lot of focus on preparing a strong portfolio.
Do your research and make sure you have a firm understanding of the state of the industry. And before you submit your portfolio for review, make sure you have researched the studio and fully understand their artistic style. Perhaps most importantly, don't give up after your first rejection (or second or third, for that matter). Instead, try to establish ongoing communications with potential employers and periodically check in with them asking for their feedback on your submissions. Then, try to apply that feedback to your work.
Q: Tell us a bit about how things work in the art department. How do you brainstorm new ideas?
We need to keep in mind at all times that what we are developing here should, first and foremost, qualify as entertainment. I truly believe that what you experience over the duration of the journey that is a development cycle is reflected in the entertainment value and the quality of the finished product. Truthfully, you have to keep things in perspective—we're grown-ups making games! You have to have a sense of humor and remember that we aren't... say... finding a cure for some horrendous disease or a way to prevent global warming.
Q: Tell us about a few of your favorite pieces you've done for ArenaNet.
The pieces that I’m most intrigued by are the ones based on ideas with a lot of potential that for one reason or another (most of the time technical limitations) were underutilized. I don’t abandon these ideas, but rather store them away to be revived and reprocessed when the time is right.
"Rooftops" (one of the winning entries at the "Into the Pixel" digital art show at E3 2006) and "Urban Canal" (Master Award: Best Cityscape—Expose 4) were inspired by the Kowloon Walled City, the most densely populated place on Earth until it was demolished in the early nineties. Fifty thousand people inhabited a few square blocks of the most bizarre yet fascinating architectural structures, a miracle of human survival, self-governing, and coexistence. I would like to revisit this concept and do it justice as gaming platforms will soon be capable of handling that amount of 3D geometry.
"Fish Fort" (Silver Medal Award—Spectrum 13) and "Crab Fort" (Master Award: Best Environment—Expose 4) are part of a series of gigantic crawling structures, powered by that elusive perfect synergy of human ingenuity and magic. They are each inhabited by self sufficient ethnic groups, with their traditions, struggles, and aspirations, sometimes converging, other times clashing...their destinies woven together by their eternal wandering across the Endless Desert. I feel that the idea is worth revisiting when less prohibitive technical constraints allow turning it into the central theme of a game.
"Floating Mosque" (Winning entry—"Into the Pixel" 2006) is just waiting for gameplay to break away from gravity and take to the skies...